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“Everyone’s Doing It”- Health Survey Reveals PLNU’s Perceptions versus Reality

People typically associate college with parties, binge-drinking, all-nighters and coffee-fueled exhaustion. But then again, Point Loma Nazarene University is not what you would associate with most colleges: ocean-view dorms, late night chapel and coffee-fueled Christians. That being said, the results of the Fall 2017 National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey reveals that PLNU students face many of the same academic pressures and health issues that undergraduates across the country feel.

Back in October, the American College Health Association administered the survey to 775 PLNU undergraduate students who anonymously answered questions about sexual health, mental health, drug/alcohol use and overall campus safety. Last week, PLNU Dean of Students, Jeff Bolster, distributed the 18 page report to students and faculty via email.

“I thought [the survey] was really good, because it was stuff I had really thought about for a long time, but never really gotten answers to,” said Junior Writing major Whitney Byrd. “I think every person in our age range should do it because you’re thinking about, ‘What are my peers doing? What do I think my peers are doing? Versus what is actually happening, which is what I wanted to get at. While there’s a lot of gossip and rumors about this, what are the numbers for it?”

Bolster said that many of the results were not surprising in the sense that many of the issues PLNU students expressed in the survey are highly discussed topics in higher education.

A bar graph showing the perception versus reality of “Undergraduate Alcohol Use within past 30 days”
Graphic created by Natallie Rocha

“What I see, is what I experience,” Bolster said. “There’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of anxiety. You look at our student body and you see students want to do well, succeed academically, be healthy in their relationships and there’s just pressure, stress and worry. I think that clearly came through on this survey.”

The Point compared the NCHA reports of PLNU Fall 2017 to the University of California San Diego Spring 2016 and the National NCHA results for Spring 2017. While the responses were collected at different times of year and could elicit varying student results due to breaks or seasonal stress, there were similar patterns in the reports. Across the board, students identified stress, anxiety and sleep difficulties as the top three academic impacts to their performance over the past 12 months.

Since the data was released, Bolster and PLNU faculty members held a meeting in which they discussed the results. In regard to what comes next, Bolster said he is leaving that open to the campus community.

“There’s no way that one person or one department can respond appropriately or adequately to this,” Bolster said. “I think this is going to take a real campus-wide collaborative effort. Essentially, that’s why I sent it out to the whole student body to get an idea of, what do you all think? I’m trying to be slow to answer the ‘what now?’ question, but intentional.”

According to the PLNU Fall 2017 report, 86.3% of respondents perceived that the average Point Loma student drank alcohol within the past 30 days. When in actuality, only 40.5% of respondents said they drank alcohol in the past 30 days. This gap of perception is not unique to PLNU, as both the National and UCSD data reflected a higher perceived use of alcohol and marijuana among students.

Bolster said that from his experience and knowledge of college culture, people are inclined to think “everyone is doing it,” which could explain the gap in perception. He also attributes these “social norms” to how college is portrayed in movies, TV shows and on social media. While it is normal for students to hold this misconception, the data in PLNU’s report shows a lower rate of undergraduate students who drink.

The numbers in the NCHA report are valuable tools for administrators to evaluate student services, but it is ultimately a resource for students to take ownership of their health and college experience.

“It gives numbers to what we are thinking about,” Byrd said. “I think it’s a practical thing about just knowing yourself and it comes with time of having to grow up and say what do I need to succeed? Those numbers really help me because now I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a lot of other students dealing with this and I shouldn’t be depressed that I am the only one.’ I can actually find comfort in that, there’s other people dealing with it.”

If you would like to discuss the NCHA Survey results further, contact Jeff Bolster JeffBolster@pointloma.edu or on the third floor of Nicholson Commons.

 

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Natallie Rocha

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